That was what Rudolph Weibel and his son Frederick wanted when they started making wine in the basement of San Francisco’s William Tell Hotel. Arriving in the Pacific Northwest from the Swiss town of Muensingen in 1936, the Weibels put their family winemaking heritage to good use for Columbia Winery in Vancouver. A year later, with Fred’s new Swiss wife Hulda, the Weibels moved to California’s city by the bay.
Weibel Champagne Cellars prospered during the war years in the basement of what became the legendary Earthquake McGoon’s jazz club, but in 1945, it was time to expand. The Weibels wanted to grow their own grapes and build their own champagnery. Their opportunity came when 100 acres of historical vineyards and an old brick winery became available in Mission San Jose.
By 1860, a natural warm springs called Rancho Agua Caliente, had become a popular destination for wealthy San Franciscan’s including railroad tycoon and former governor Leland Stanford. He purchased a square mile of orchards and vineyards surrounding the springs and turned the property over to his brother. Josiah Stanford tripled the size of vineyards and expanded the existing brick winery.
The Stanford heirs sold the land in 1923 and after two decades of neglect, the property came to the attention of the Weibels. The family purchased the fallow vineyard and rundown building in 1946. Soon, the brick building was transformed from a stable back to a winery while 65 acres of new vineyards were planted.
In 1968 Weibel began buying vineyard property in Mendocino County and established a second winery near Ukiah in 1973. However, economic pressures forced Weibel to sell the Mendocino operation in 1995 and return to its roots in Mission San Jose.
In 1996, the pressures of urbanization forced Weibel Vineyards to move from what became the city of Fremont to its present location in the old Guild Winery off Turner Road in Woodbridge. Today, Weibel is the preeminent producer of private label champagnes in California. Weibel continues to be a family owned operation. Rudolf’s grandson Fred is the company president and fourth generation daughter Elise is in the winery office.
According to Doug Richards, Weibel’s Vice President, “Our primary business is champagne. We do a couple of hundred thousand cases a year, mostly private labels for casinos, restaurants, corporations, weddings and other special occasions. We have over 600 private label clients a year and we also make champagne for other wineries.” Weibel is also in the premium wine business with several brands including Weibel, Stone Creek, and James Arthur Field. Weibel Vineyards
Weibel doesn’t do its own crushing. The company purchases wines from throughout the state but most come from the Lodi and Mendocino regions. “Our Chardonnay comes from Monterey County and we are always looking for the best wines in bulk for our still wine program,” Richards said.
Weibel champagnes are made with mostly French Colombard grapes using the Charmat bulk process. The wine is fermented in large 1,000 -2,000 gallon glass lines tanks and the process takes about 45 days to complete. The result of this labor saving, cost effective method is a slightly sweet, mellow brute style champagne with clean fruitiness and balanced acidity.
A new twist on Weibel wine is the introduction of flavored champagnes. The Almond, Raspberry and Pineapple sparklers are gaining wide acceptance in the marketplace. According to Richards, “Our Raspberry champagne is really taking off, especially in other winery tasting rooms where people get a chance to taste before buying. We add just enough natural flavoring to the dosage to produce the desired effect.”
While we associate champagne with special occasions and the holiday season, sparkling wines are great just about anytime; as a cocktail before dinner, with lighter fare, and with dessert. Whatever your setting or occasion, Weibel is a great choice for value and quality champagne without the fancy building or the dank caves.